The Case of Malawi

Researcher studies tactics used by tobacco companies to promote crop while suppressing health concerns in developing nations
  

JOHNSON CITY – Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and other tobacco companies use numerous tactics to oppose global tobacco control and suppress health concerns related to tobacco production and use in developing nations, according to a new study by a faculty member in East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health.

ETSU’s Dr. Hadii Mamudu co-authored the study, which is published in the October issue of American Journal of Public Health. Mamudu and two colleagues focus on Malawi, a nation whose economy is more dependent on tobacco than any other around the globe. It is also one of the world’s poorest countries.

In “Tobacco Companies’ Use of Developing Countries’ Economic Reliance on Tobacco to Lobby Against Global Tobacco Control: The Case of Malawi,” Mamudu and his co-authors, Drs. Stanton Glantz and Martin Otañez, note that tobacco accounts for 70 percent of foreign earnings in Malawi – a landlocked country in southeastern Africa – and between 600,000 and 2 million members of the country’s workforce are directly employed in the tobacco industry.

Malawi was the seventh largest global exporter of tobacco leaf in 2005 but ranked 14 th on the list of poorest nations, with some of the world’s lowest indicators for human development. For example, only 44 percent of the country’s people will survive to be 40, and 27 percent do not have access to clean water.

Mamudu, who has written a book on global tobacco control policymaking, said the situation in Malawi isn’t unique as multinational companies expand tobacco production in developing nations. Malawi emerged as a major producer of tobacco in the 1970s.

“Malawi isn’t a unique case, but it is an extreme one,” Mamudu said. “Since Malawi is the seventh largest global exporter of tobacco leaf, the country should be a model for a tobacco economy. And if tobacco production is an economically viable activity, Malawi shouldn’t be 14 th on the list of poorest nations.”

Tobacco companies in the United States and other countries produced reports that described economic disaster in Malawi without tobacco, a tactic employed, Mamudu and his colleagues write, to thwart impending passage of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a global public health treaty that has been ratified by 167 nations, not including the United States.

Glantz is a faculty member with the University of California, San Francisco, and the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. Otañez is a faculty member with the anthropology department at University of Colorado in Denver.